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Lean Manufacturing: Standard Work for Superior Results

July 16, 2019

 by David Collins III

continues improvement

Standard work may be the most universal term in lean manufacturing, but it’s also one of the most important. It’s the basis for continuous improvement and gives operators a way to share information easily, train employees, and sets a standard from which to work. It's also often a key pillar in plant turnarounds.


If you want to implement lean manufacturing, standard work is one of the fundamental processes that underpin the whole lean system. 

Why should I standardize work?

There are many benefits to standardization. Here are just a few:

  • Allows you to document the current process for all shifts
  • Reduces the variability
  • Easier training of new operators
  • Reductions in injuries and strains
  • Works as the baseline for improvement activities
  • A way for local leaders to ensure each operator does their work as planned

As your standards improve, the new standard then becomes the baseline for further improvements. This process continuous so standardized work becomes a never-ending process of development. With all these benefits, what is the proper way to establish a standard of practice?

How to establish standard work

Establishing standard work begins with creating, clarifying and sharing information about the most efficient method to perform a task. The information should be currently known by everyone performing the process and widely shared. 

Standard work gives a framework for operators to complete their tasks based on the best available method. While on the surface, this may seem like it reduces employees to automatons within the manufacturing process, it’s actually empowering operators. Ideally, a standard work framework is created by the operators with support from their leaders or process engineers. Thus, this ensures some level of buy-in and effectiveness in work.

Standard work allows operators to find improvements from an understood basis line. In other words, it means that employees never have to reinvent the wheel for a job. Instead, they are always in a position to find improvements to the wheel. 

To successfully implement standard work, there are three elements to understand: Takt time, work sequence and inventory. Let’s dig deeper into each of these aspects below:

1. Take time

This is the rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand. Not to be confused with cycle time (the actual time it takes for products to be created to meet demand). 

Take time acts as the standard, so cycle time needs to match or be quicker that it to meet standards. If the cycle time is longer than the take time, especially during final assembly, then it could generate problems in the manufacturing process. It also helps managers and operators know if operations are improving as there is a standard to measure against. 

2. Work Sequence

The work sequence encompasses the sequence that operators perform within the takt time. It may seem obvious, but it’s not uncommon for many factories to want to skip or combine steps when rushing to fill an order. 

Clear visual instructions help operators to follow all the proper steps and avoid significant production risks. Having standardized work along with the discipline to follow it ensures the quality of your products and can drastically lower your amount of rework. Operators can see what the main risks are and know to avoid them. 

When each step is fully understood, it’s then possible to find ways to combine or eliminate operations to achieve the same high standards with clear visual instructions. 

3. Inventory

This refers to the stock required to keep the process operating smoothly, and it’s a key component to successful manufacturing. The goal of your inventory is that it should always be just the right materials at just the right time — so that there are never insufficient or excess materials for what is needed. 

To have insufficient materials means that operators are idle and wasting time. On the other hand, excess materials mean that the factory is likely having a cash flow problem where unused materials are essentially cash sitting on shelves. 

In the worst case scenario, overproduction can lead to many other forms of waste too. There may be many defects that are uncovered too late or excess materials that need to be transported and stored. These are all costing your business. 


Standardizing the work adds discipline to the culture, an element that is frequently neglected but essential for lean to take hold in company culture. It’s also a learning tool that supports auditing, promotes problem-solving and involves various team members in developing a poka-yoke. 

Implementing standard work in your factory can be extremely beneficial to help you see the manufacturing results you want. If you’re unsure about how you can standardize your work, feel free to reach out to us for a consultation. 


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Topics: Lean Manufacturing, Process Improvement

David Collins III

David Collins III

David was a Senior Strategy Consultant for Deloitte, served in Iraq as a Special Operations Civil Affairs soldier, and as a Governance Advisor to the Afghan Government with the Department of State. At CMC, David advises clients on strategy and investments.

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